she who was once the helmet-maker’s beautiful wife

SHE WHO WAS ONCE THE
HELMET-MAKER’S BEAUTIFUL WIFE
A sculpture by August Rodin 1880-85 at The Hirshhorn, Washington, D.C.

Her skin flows –
          lava, rippling
down her frail neck, rib cage, legs –
then solidifies, bronzed.
          Gravity – hypnotic –
tugs at her deflated breasts. Punctuated
by sunken nipples, invisible aureoles, they lounge
against her ribs, her tired mound of belly.
Her hair hangs in a horseshoe on her back.
Her kneecaps jut in knotted knobs, dark
and pockmarked as peppercorns.

The pitted surfaces of her skin
refract the museum light,
          deflect her despair
to her companions – Crouching Woman,
Head of Sorrow, Kneeling Woman Combing Her Hair.
The Hirshhorn docent points at her,
while students scribble in notebooks,
          raincoats tossed over their arms.
Rodin insists she was once beautiful,
and maybe she was, but today
and until bronze disintegrates,
her essence hides within a craggy oyster shell,
pearly, air-thin bones under loose-fitting skin.

     Inside her hollows, she just remembers
wandering to her husband’s shop
on woolen summer evenings,
moonlight glancing off canary grass,
a whippoorwill’s lament in liquid air.

          Goosebumps blossomed
on her skin as she watched his shoulders
strain in the light from the fire.
She silently slid her fingers over the cool ridge
of a helmet, her own reflection – beguiling –
in the metal-mirror curve.

She loved to seduce him on those ancient evenings,
the helmets – like a crowd
     of   floating,   gleaming   heads – peering   
               silently,
as she and her husband
          made tangled love
                    on the dusty floor.

~ July 12, 2001

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